Thursday, 30 December 2010

Fawlty Towers

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How appropriate to find the location of Fawlty Towers missing from Open Street Map.

The place where they filmed the exterior was not in Torquay at all. It was at Wooburn Grange Country Club between Bourne End and Wooburn Green. The familiar white building burnt down in 1991. It was demolished and replaced by private houses. I've used OS Streetview to add the roads.

There's more informsation here

Monday, 27 December 2010

Rode ten miles this afternoon. Well I say rode, but....

I took a quick turn over the winter hill loop after lunch. The road there and back was clear, but between Winter Hill and Cookham there was still a lot of snow and slush on the road surface.

It was a bit of a mess, and left the road slippery and lumpy so the bike was sliding around quite a bit. Last winter (when I was younger and more foolish) I rode in worse. Today I decided that discretion was in order, so I ended up walking and pushing for a mile or so.

Despite that it was good to get out. The ten miles has finally taken this year's total mileage over 3,000. That falls well below my plan for the year, but at least I can console myself that it's higher than I achieved in 2009, and there are still a few days left to go.

I also took the opportunity to try out the new helmet camera, but that wasn't a great success. I hadn't positioned it properly so I have just collected and downloaded about 40 minutes of video showing nothing except a stretch of tarmac just ahead of the front wheel. I'll have another try soon.

Christmas presents

There has been a bit of a cycling theme to this year's Christmas presents.

I must have been a good boy in 2010. There's an old cycling poster from the 1940's to go on the wall, a couple of cycling books to dip into, some padded underpants to protect my nether regions, and a helmet camera so that I can record descents down some favourite bits of road. I suspect most of these will reappear here in future.

Today, though, is a lazy day. This shiny little metal cyclist is getting more exercise than I am, as he pedals across the windowsill in front of me.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Roads for the rich

Some drivers claim ownership of the roads because they pay road tax. The "road tax" part of this is nonsense (see footnote below if you don't know why). But let's suspend disbelief for a moment, and examine the other part of the idea - that those who pay most for the roads have a superior right to use them.

Roads are funded through general taxation. The average family with income of more than £74,000 contributes about 27% of their income to government spending. The average family with income under £26,000 a year receives more in benefits than they pay in taxes. Low income families make no (net) contribution to government spending. An average family with income between £26,000 and £74,000 contributes about 15% of their income to government spending. All this is laid out here. (the numbers may be slightly different two years on, but I can't find anything more recent, and I am confident that the principle still holds).

In other words families with the highest incomes are contributing most to funding the road system. If we follow the principle that those who pay most have some kind of moral ownership of roads then nobody with household income under £26,000 should be allowed to use the roads at all, and those with income of more than £74,000 should be allowed to use them most.

Since 60% of households earn less than £26,000 it's obvious that limiting use of the roads to higher income groups could solve a lot of congestion problems. It would be a cheap way of boosting sustainable forms of transport, such as buses and walking, as well as cycling - all policy aims of our government.

I commend the idea to the house.

On second thoughts, perhaps not. Surely a gap between the value of services we receive from government and the amount we pay in taxes isn't some anomaly in the system - that's how it is supposed to work.

Footnote - what most people mean by "Road Tax" is actually Vehicle Excise Duty. VED is what we pay for the right to use a vehicle (not really - see Chris Hill's comment below), and has nothing to do with spending on roads. For what it's worth, fuel duties raise more than VED, but fuel duties have nothing to do with spending on roads either. Spending on roads is funded from general taxation. VED and fuel duties all go into the same pot as income tax, VAT ,and the rest. All this was decided way back in 1937. Before that there was a separate Road Fund. The case for the change was made by Winston Churchill (no less) - "It will be only a step from this for them to claim in a few years the moral ownership of the roads their contributions have created". Even though the system was changed the problem that he envisaged didn't go away - though "a few" years seems to have turned out to be about 70.

Friday, 17 December 2010

One in 25,000

According to this I've contributed about 0.004% of the content on OSM since I started about three years ago. That's 1/25,000 of all the content.

I'm sure that I could have done more, and perhaps I ought to feel bad about that. But I don't. This isn't a competition (or if it is, I'm not playing). There are 336,650 registered OSM users. I'm quite pleased with the bits I've added, but more than 2,000 have made a bigger contribution than I have, and I think that's great.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Phlegmatic cyclists

According to the British Crime Survey people who have their car stolen are more likely to be emotionally affected than people who have their bike stolen. They are also more likely to get angry (69% vs. 55%) and more likely to cry (8% vs 2%). Perhaps that's because people get more attached to their car, perhaps it's because the average value of a stolen vehicle is £2,400 and the average value of a stolen bike is £253. Or perhaps cycling helps us deal with stuff. The data is here

Leave your bike at a London Station - but hurry

This is the best time of year to leave your bike at a London station. There are fewer bicycle thefts reported to British Transport Police in December than at any other time of the year. But hurry - things start to get worse after Christmas, and by next summer there will be three times as many bikes being reported stolen.

Richmond, Camden, Bromley and Kingston together account for a third of the reports.

The data is here

Monday, 13 December 2010

DfT consultation

I see that the Department for Transport have opened consultation on the Transparency section of their business plan. The information is here. We are not being invited to comment on the content - I assume that consultation has already happened. So leaving aside any issues we might have with the rest of the document, we are invited to comment on whether they:
  • have selected the right indicators and measures and clearly explained their meaning in order to give a helpful high-level picture on the spending and performance of the transport sector
  • have robust data systems in place to ensure that the information provided is accurate, timely and robust and the quality is fit for purpose
  • have clearly defined their commitment to publishing data to help judge performance and whether the data that will be published meets our needs
  • should be mandating or encouraging the publication of extra data, or data broken down in a different way, that we would find helpful in holding the transport sector to account or making choices about transport services
I'll take it as a given that the people in DfT really are interested in encouraging sustainable travel, making cycling more attractive and so on. On that basis my first thoughts are:
  • Decision taking is going to be at a local level, but the DfT plan is to publish the main indicators at a regional level - shouldn't we expect data at local authority level on the proportion of cycling trips to presented in a consistent format so that we can compare how different local authorities are performing?
  • Numbers are pretty useless in isolation - there are too many other factors to explain any differences and confuse the issues. Shouldn't we expect at least some baseline data for each local authority, so that we can see future trends
  • Measuring the number of urban trips under 5 miles strikes me as a fairly useful proxy for measuring progress. It's particularly relevant for large towns and cities. But any single target is potentially going to distort behaviour. What about additional measures for local authorities that choose to prioritise other forms of cycling (sport, or tourism); or particular groups (school-children, commuters, rail users) 
  • What this is seeking is behavioural change across large numbers of road users. That takes time. I imagine that even the most effective local initiatives will show little impact on outcomes in the first couple of years. The suggested indicators are "lagging" in the way they measure any impact. It's no good looking back in four years time and saying "well that didn't work then". Effective scrutiny will have to rely on  leading indicators, to see what our local representatives are up to, and whether things are heading in the right direction. If individual local authorities are bombarded with FOIA requests it will waste a lot of their time.  Local authorities themselves will need more detail to monitor and steer their local initiatives. So it would be good to see some consistent standard measures for each local authority of things like the level of investment in cycling infrastructure, what local goals and targets have been set, the types of initiative that are taking place, and the number of participants in schemes such as training for cyclists
  • Is DfT providing any guidelines to local authorities on how to track progress and how to ensure measurements are consistent between authorities - and if so, what are they. 
  • Finally (and I'm not sure if this fits the consultation criteria or not), I've not seen anything on how proposals for the sustainable transport fund are going to be evaluated - how can we participate  without knowing this?
I don't have any experience of this kind of thing. Maybe others do, and maybe they are already involved. What is the best way to be heard? Have I missed anything? Am I wasting my time even thinking about it?

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

If we had no rules where would we be?

Our local council has posted an item on their web site about a campaign by community wardens and police community support officers to discourage cycling in pedestrian areas around the town centre. Apparently in one week of November they issued five fixed penalty notices and "educated" four young people about the dangers of cycling in a pedestrian area.

My reaction to this is a bit mixed.

On the one hand:

I don't like to see cyclists riding on the pavement. Most of those I see doing it are young men, who are big enough to handle traffic, don't always take much care around pedestrians, and ought to know better. I can see why it worries the more elderly or parents with young children. I know it would be better for both cyclists and pedestrians if more cyclists were on the road and fewer on the pavement.

On the other hand:

There are situations where I can understand why people ride on the pavement. There are busy roads, and dodgy drivers around. I've recently learned the hard way just how vulnerable cyclists can be in traffic. So I have some sympathy with people who sometimes feel safer on the pavement than on the road.

For me the bigger issue is finding my way around a jumble of pedestrian areas and access roads in the town centre. Traffic is taken around a tortuous one-way system, and there are only a few clear cycle routes. I can easily find my way around the centre on foot but I don't often ride through it, so I don't always have a clear idea of the best way to navigate from A to B. As a result I admit to sometimes riding on pedestrian areas - just because it's easiest.

I don't want an FPN, so in future I'll have to be more clear where we are allowed to ride, and where we are not. I'll end up avoiding some of the more difficult parts of the centre.

Basically I think what I'm saying is that I approve of what they are doing to stop others cycling on the pavement. I'll do my bit, but it's all a bit of a pain and I wish the rules didn't apply to me.

They say their campaign has been a success, and I suppose this means they are right as far as I am concerned. But if I forget, make a mistake, or end up bending the rules for some reason, I hope they handle it sensibly. So far that seems to be how it is. Each day of the week's campaign they issued less than one FPN and educated less than one cyclist. That doesn't sound as though the enforcement has been too vigorous so far. Either they are being very reasonable, or there wasn't much of a problem in the first place.

Sunday, 28 November 2010


Sunday evening is when we get most updates about how the rest of the family is doing. With various relatives scattered around the country it sounds as though we are the just about the only ones who are not experiencing snow at the moment.

No doubt our day will come. For now I can only say that this afternoon's ride was blooming cold. My nose dripped constantly. Normally I proceed at a relaxed and leisurely pace, but today for the last few miles I dropped a gear, and pedalled furiously to warm myself up. When I got home I enjoyed the mug of hot chocolate that I had been dreaming about for a while.

The more important thing is that I've finally revisited the roundabout on the A4 where I was knocked off the bike a few weeks back.

I've been avoiding this for a while, by routing around. The A4 isn't a great road to ride on, but it joins up a lot of my other routes, and avoiding one junction was getting a bit silly. Naturally there was no problem today - on a Sunday afternoon with little traffic. So I decided to continue along it for a few more miles and a few more roundabouts. I wanted to prove that I was far too sensible to be troubled by one bump, and that I could easily  overcome any anxieties that I might have imagined. It worked. I am convinced. Really.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

War memorials

It was a bit of a cold morning but I managed a ride of about 20 miles around familiar lanes. It's now a couple of weeks after Remembrance Day, but I went with the intent of adding some of the local war memorials to Open Street Map.

The one in the picture is on the edge of Waltham St Lawrence. It commemorates those who died in both world wars, but I suppose it is understandable to associate war memorials mostly with the first. Apparently from this village of around 900 people, 220 served, and 29 died between 1914 and 1918.

It is estimated that 16.5 million people were killed in the first war, of which almost a million were from the UK. Just over one in 50 of the population were killed. So the village of Waltham St Lawrence suffered a bit more than most, but there is nothing really unusual about the number of casualties from this particular parish. There must be a similar number of names on tens of thousands of similar memorials.

The first world war ended a long time ago, but these monuments still show how determined they were at the time that their sacrifice would be remembered. Like many of them, one of the other memorials I visited today is inscribed "lest we forget". When the local MP unveiled this one he described it as “a memorial for all time”.

In many ways I suppose we have succeeded in keeping the memory alive, but I suspect most of us find it hard enough to understand how individuals coped with the impact on their own family. I, for one, cannot begin to imagine the overall magnitude of the slaughter. I find these memorials from a small community very moving. Perhaps that's because they bring something unimaginable down to a scale that I can cope with. But they are also so common and so familiar that I regret to say I normally pass without taking any particular notice. I'm glad that I took a bit of time to search a few out, and to make a point of pausing and reflecting.

The UK National Inventory of War Memorials is here, and the War Memorials Trust is here. The idea of adding war memorials to Open Street Map came from an OSM project of the week here. And I'm hoping that the one in the picture will appear on the map here.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

"Things can only get better"

It has not been a great day today, but even the World Database of Happiness recognises that we all share some ups and downs. Their figures look all over the place to me, but to the extent that there is any trend at all, things seems to be heading in the right direction. Slowly. So anyone who wants to survey my level of happiness might be well-advised to wait a while.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

What on earth!

From link on Yehuda Moon

Monday, 8 November 2010

Interesting map of UK POW camps from the Guardian data blog

More information here. Who'd have thought there were so many?

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Combined bicycle and accordion


Just fills a need long felt bv the cyclist.

There is a certain action claimed for it, in which pressure of air is used on the treadles which helps to propel the machine; but this is only a secondary element in the mind of the wary cyclist; no sooner will he see this invention than he will grasp the idea of getting keys to it and having it play him a tune, as he speeds on his lonely way. And then, how nice to sit down, unscrew a pedal, remove his treasure, and produce sweet strains of silvery music.

A new short method of instruction for playing upon this new combination may go with each cycle sold, such that any rider could soon comprehend. Below find brief of specification.

From the lower ends of the fork C extend, in downwardly or backwardly direction, fixed brackets, C' to which are applied closed expansible bellows, D, of oblong shape, one at each side of the driving-wheel A.

The combination, in a velocipede, with the driving wheel, of closed bellows supported on fixed brackets of the fork, forked pedal-rods connected at the lower end of the bottom of the bellows, and at the upper end to a transverse oscillating balance-rod.

R. von Malkowsky.

Extracted from Cycling Art, Energy and Locomotion. A series of remarks on the development of bicycles, tricycles and man motor carriages, by Robert P. Scott. Which can be found here. I have to admit that I'm not sure how tongue in cheek this was.

Tour de Fingest

Today I managed a thirty mile ride around one of my favourite routes. It goes over Winter Hill,  through Marlow, up to Fingest, then down the Hambleden valley and back to Marlow. I came home through Bourne End and Cookham. There's a map of the best part of the route here. It's the triangular local cycle route that runs north-west from Marlow, crossing the Chiltern's Cycleway.

It was a glorious day for a ride. There was a little bit of rain in the air but nothing much came of it. For most of my ride the sun was shining and the countryside was looking lovely and autumnal. There were quite a few walkers and cyclists out and about enjoying it all.

Previously on Tlatet we've covered the reasons why I've not done any long rides recently. Today was my longest outing on the bike in nearly two months. Over that time I've done a couple of rides to Windsor and back, but I tend to think of the 20 mile ride to Windsor as one of my longer short rides, while the 30 mile loop round Fingest and the Hambleden valley is one of my shorter long rides.

On the more boring parts of a ride my mind tends to start turning over questions like "at what point does a long-short ride turn into a short-long ride". I've not come up with an answer, but I have decided that it's not just about the distance. Familiarity also has something to do with it. I've ridden today's route perhaps half-a-dozen times, but the Windsor route dozens of times. I drive the roads to Windsor quite regularly, but I drive up into this part of the Chilterns more rarely than I cycle. The landscape on the two rides is also quite different. Today's ride involves hills and country lanes. In places it's quite hard work. The Windsor route is ridiculously flat, so an easier ride, and it involves more built-up areas and busy roads. As much as anything else it's the difference between spotting half a dozen Red Kites circling above Hambleden, or a flock of swans somewhere on the Thames.

There are a couple of hilly parts on today's route. One is the long climb out of Marlow. This normally involves a bit of puffing and panting, and I usually measure my performance by how many cyclists overtake me. However, there were no other cyclists around on that stretch today, so I have to be a bit more subjective. On balance, I decided my efforts there were what my mother would call "nothing to write home about". On the other hand they weren't too embarrassing either. The other hilly bits are some crinkly climbs  after Hambleden on the back road into Marlow. I've only once managed to climb all of those without getting off and pushing at some point. Today was the second time. And there was another milestone: I'm struggling to reach my goal for this year, but at least today takes this year's total past the mileage that I achieved in the whole of 2009.  

In summary, the scenery delivered everything that was expected. The weather did more than we have any right to expect at this time of year. The bike is riding well. And the cyclist gets a warm glow, a gold star for the crinkly bits, and no black marks for the slow climb out of Marlow. All very satisfactory.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Why does a bicycle stand up while rolling and fall down as soon as onward motion ceases?

For a plausible explanation, this and the section on balance here are a good start, but I like the following better:

The bottom of the wheel can have no side motion because it rests on the ground; and since the bottom is constantly becoming the top and the top the bottom, if the upper part of the wheel gets any lateral motion, it is checked by being brought round upon the ground again before the motion has too much influence.

That's taken from "Cycling Art, Energy and Locomotion. A series of remarks on the development of bicycles, tricycles and man motor carriages" by Robert P. Scott (1889). It can be found here. FWIW Mr Scott doesn't seem to find the explanation that I quoted very plausible either. He puts the magic down to the gyroscopic effect of spinning wheels. That's what I was originally taught, but that explanation seems to be discredited these days. The truth seems to be that we learn to steer so that the points where the tyres touch the road stay under the centre of gravity. That's what this is designed to do.

Perhaps what is really astonishing is that people have been building and riding these things for so long without really understanding how they work.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Je suis navré, je ne parle pas du tout le Français

Sort of following on from yesterday's post, with another bicycle too.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

House of Lords debates, 27 October 2010

Lord Butler of Brockwell (Crossbench) - To ask the Chairman of Committees whether there are any plans to install a docking station for the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme on the Lords controlled part of the Parliamentary Estate.

Lord Brabazon of Tara (Crossbench) - My Lords, Transport for London recently contacted the House of Commons regarding the possible installation of a Barclays Cycle Hire docking station on the Parliamentary Estate. While we cannot permit a station for public use in the secure area of the Estate, we are looking at whether an alternative location can be found outside the secure area. The nearest docking station to the House of Lords is in Smith Square.

Lord Butler of Brockwell (Crossbench) - My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that encouraging reply. I declare an interest as a subscriber to the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme. I have tested the walk to Smith Square and it takes the better part of 10 minutes. Would the noble Lord agree that it would be for the convenience of Members of this House and their staff to have greater ease in using this facility?

.... it all rambles on a bit, then...

Lord Brabazon of Tara (Crossbench) - My Lords, I have studied a number of questions recently in this House on the Barclays cycle scheme and I know that the subject of the wearing of helmets has come up frequently but, answering as I am for administration of the House, it is not a matter for the administration of the House whether Members should wear helmets or not. I think that most noble Lords are probably grown up enough to make their own decision about that.

The whole discussion can be found on They Work For You. FWIW the walk from the House of Lords to Smith Square is about 500 yards. The map is here.

October round-up

Things are not looking good.

The aim was to cycle 3,759 miles this year. To do that I needed to average just over 70 miles a week. At the beginning of August I was a couple of weeks behind, but by the beginning of September I had put in some more effort, closed the gap, and was even slightly ahead. I knew we were going away for a couple of weeks in September, so things would drop back. But I thought there was still time to catch up again by the end of the year.

Unfortunately the accident has mucked things up a bit. Instead of catching up in October I've fallen even further behind. Now this year's mileage is about where it should have been five weeks ago, and there's only a couple of months to catch up. Out in the real world, things are pretty busy at the moment, and the weather is becoming less helpful. There's little chance that I will close the gap.

The trouble with unreachable goals is that they stop being an incentive, and become a discouragement.

At the moment I can see two options. One is to recalibrate the annual goal, and the other is to extend the length of the year. About 10% of the goal I set myself in 2010 was to compensate for the shortfall against my 2009 goal. If I postpone the roll-over another year to 2011 then I would be left with an easier goal of 3,364 miles for 2010. I'm just about on track to do that at the moment, and I ought to be able to reach it. Alternatively I could decide to end 2010 at some point in January. That would give me longer to reach this year's goal, but a shorter year in 2011.

My inclination is to postpone the shortfall, rather than move the date because I think that leaves more of an incentive.

I am being teased for over-thinking all this, but it's not the kind of decision you want to rush.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Troll Physics

From here, but originally here. with thanks to Ben Goldacre

Cycling is the happiest mode of transport

The Danish Federation of Cyclists have found that cyclists associate their mode of transport with happiness more than bus passengers, train passengers or car drivers. This is from the Cycling Embassy of Denmark, a network of private companies, local authorities and non-governmental organizations working to encourage cycling. It is based in the office of the Danish Cycling Federation in Copenhagen (of course that won't influence their conclusions in any way).

This afternoon I am not going to take the bus or the car for the four miles to Cookham - I will spread a little happiness instead.

Update: I thoroughly enjoyed my brief ride to Cookham (and got some productive work done when I got there). On my way out I passed our neighbour's daughter practising on her bike. It was her second outing without stabilisers. She has quickly mastered it, was having a whale of a time, and setting a pretty high standard for spreading happiness on a bike.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Saturday, 23 October 2010

European data on cycling to work

I'm a bit late here, but Eurobarometer did a survey last year on the quality of life in European cities. Among other things it asked how people travelled to work. 

London ranked in the top 20 for the proportion of people cycling to work (9% - way behind Copenhagen at 60%, but ahead of Paris).

The ranking isn't a great surprise I suppose, but 9% is a much higher proportion of cycling journeys than the 2% estimate from Transport for London.

Thursday, 21 October 2010


Who was frightened by a Passing Motor, and was brought to Reason.
From Cautionary Tales for Children, by Hilaire Belloc. (Project Gutenberg version)

“Oh, Murder! What was that, Papa!”
“My child, It was a Motor-Car,
A Most Ingenious Toy!

Designed to Captivate and Charm
Much rather than to rouse Alarm
In any English Boy.

“What would your Great Grandfather who
Was Aide-de-Camp to General Brue,
And lost a leg at Waterloo,
And Quatre-Bras and Ligny too!

And died at Trafalgar!—

What would he have remarked to hear
His Young Descendant shriek with fear,
Because he happened to be near
A Harmless Motor-Car!

But do not fret about it! Come!
We’ll off to Town
And purchase some!”

(well that's one way for a cyclist to overcome nervousness about traffic)
More useful stuff here

Monday, 18 October 2010

Sens unique

I understand that for the last few months some French cities have allowed cyclists to ride the "wrong" way along one-way streets providing they are within a zone where motorists are limited to 30kph. Does anyone here know whether I have got this right? If so how widely it has been implemented? Has it been welcomed by cyclists, and how successful has it been?

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Encounters on the Windsor road

I was a lapsed cyclist of forty years until I took it up again four years ago. To begin with I just did short local rides, but I gradually explored a wider area and built up a network of interesting routes that avoided the worst hills and the busiest traffic. As I developed my technique and my leg muscles I gradually took on more ambitious rides. Until the accident a couple of weeks ago I was regularly undertaking rides of 60 miles or more, and doing a weekly mileage of 80 or more. I felt confident enough to handle pretty much anything I came across - whether it was a steep hill or busy traffic.

The accident hasn't done any lasting damage, but it has knocked me back a bit. For the last couple of weeks it's been too uncomfortable to ride more than a few miles. I've been very wary of traffic, and avoiding busy roads until I build up confidence again.

As a result I'm rediscovering some of my flatter routes from four years ago. This morning I rode 20 miles: out to Windsor along the Jubilee Channel, and back along the main road. I feel as pleased with myself as I used to in 2006. It was a Sunday, so the traffic was fairly light, but still there were a couple of busy stretches, and I coped as well as I had hoped. Physically, the tender spots are not as sensitive as they were a few days ago. Things are heading in the right direction. And the weather was perfect.

Soon I hope that I'll need to do much longer rides to get the same sense of achievement. Meanwhile, these shorter rides are a real time-saver, and a gentler pace means I have more contact with the world around me. For example:

1) The woman who came rushing along the path towards me. She'd been day-dreaming, and completely forgotten that she had brought her dog with her for a walk - so she was off to find it again
2) A couple on a magnificent tandem. I'm afraid I wasn't much help with the directions they needed, but I admired their bike and the captain offered the usual comment: the only problem was that his stoker didn't do enough of the pedalling. She kept shtum.
3) The following exchange overheard at Boulter's lock: Small boy: "Mummy, how does a lock work?" Mother: "Daddy will explain". Father: "Errm...". And so gender stereotyping passes from one generation to the next
4) A kind motorist who beeped his horn, and waved frantically to point out that there is a dual-use footpath on the road between Windsor and Maidenhead. However, it isn't very wide, and was being used quite heavily by pedestrians, so he wouldn't recommend it, and wanted to encourage me to continue riding on the road. At least I think that was what he was trying to tell me.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Decisions, decisions.

Students of marketing are taught that after making a major purchase consumers tend to experience doubts about whether they have made the right choice. To overcome these, they seek out evidence to justify their decision. This partly explains why many manufacturers include a leaflet that starts "Congratulations on becoming the proud owner of...." in the hope that this will help to encourage satisfied customers to stay loyal and spread the word. It also explains why we are said to read more product reviews after a purchase than we did beforehand.

This month Cycling Active reviews a couple of the bikes that I was considering at the beginning of the year. It's not a magazine that I normally read, and I made my choice of bike months ago, but I still couldn't resist buying a copy.

Out of the four bikes they compare, the option that they rated most highly was a bike that I had never heard of, so never considered. The option that they rated fourth was one that I discounted quite early on. Their other two options are more relevant. The Dawes Galaxy they review is a slightly different model to the one I bought. The Ridgeback Panorama was the alternative that I almost chose. At the time, I found it difficult to come to a decision between these two. Each had different strengths, and I had no way of knowing which characteristics would turn out to be more important to me. In the Cycling Active rankings the two came out almost equal, but the Panorama (which I didn't buy) was slightly ahead. When I was buying I think Ridgeback were having problems shipping. As a result I couldn't have a trial ride, so I ended up with a Super Galaxy. I dithered, but the decision was made for me.

So having read the review, where does it leave me?

It confirms my sense that there really isn't much to chose between the two. Since my first outing I have enjoyed riding the Galaxy. Intellectually I can see that I would probably have enjoyed the Panorama just as much. But emotionally no review was going to persuade me that I made a poor choice. That's a normal reaction after any major purchase. We agree with evidence that supports our decision, and disagree with evidence that doesn't. But with a bike I can't help feeling that there is more to it than that.

It seems odd to think about a relationship with a piece of machinery, but there is an element of that about it. I don't just see the Galaxy as a lovely piece of machinery any more. After several months have elapsed, I've spent a couple of hundred hours in the saddle, and we've covered a couple of thousand miles together. I have adapted my riding to its geometry, I've learned to sense the position of the gears, and I instinctively find the right position for my hands and feet. I fitted a Brooks saddle, and that is comfortably broken in. The bike carries my selection of lights, bags, and a few gizmos. It is beginning to show signs of wear and tear, and each mark has a history: the scratch from a ferry in Scotland, the scuff on the saddle after the recent accident, the scrape on the brake lever where I rested it clumsily against a wall.  I have adapted to it, and it has adapted to me.

So for what it's worth, my advice to people facing the same choice is this. Don't agonise - it probably doesn't make much difference. If you've already chosen, then (whatever it was) your decision was the right one. The feeling of regret after a purchase is known as "buyer's remorse". Save it for money wasted on reviews that you are ignoring, not the bike that you are enjoying.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Six good reasons to abolish Cycling England

#1 Abolishing Cycling England will help to reduce public spending
  • Cycling England spends £60,000,000 p.a., Abolishing it would save money, and only leaves another £127,940,000,000 to find from the annual saving of £128,000,000,000 that the treasury is looking for
  • Saving public money takes time. To placate the markets, and save on interest charges the treasury wants to reach that level of annual savings by 2015-16. That's about 5 years away. Cycling England has only a small staff, and most of the spending goes on projects, so it should be possible to make the savings quickly. Making a quick saving of 0.047% of the total should accelerate the date when the books balance. 0.047% of five years is about 18 hours - almost a whole day
#2 Abolishing Cycling England will help to improve tax revenues
  • The treasury raises virtually nothing from taxing cyclists (a bit of VAT on bicycles and accessories, which they would get whatever the money was spent on). But from car drivers they raise about £5.7bn a year in Vehicle Excise Duty, and £24bn in Fuel Duty, plus bits and bobs on congestion charge, tolls, and so on. They spend about half the total on maintaining the road network    
#3 Abolishing Cycling England will help with economic recovery
  • Each additional cyclists takes about £150 a year out of the economy, mostly in savings to the NHS, reduced cost of congestion, and reduced cost of pollution
  • As it costs about £15bn a year to maintain the road network, it  makes sense to make the maximum use of that huge investment
#4 Abolishing Cycling England will help to reduce welfare dependency
  • Cycling improves productivity at work, and extends life - the last thing we need at a time of high unemployment, when the priority is to reduce the numbers of claimants, and control the cost of state pensions
#5 Top nation status
  • The UK leads Europe in the proportion of the population that is obese or overweight, but at 61% of the population we have only a slender lead over Germany (ranking in second place at 60% of the population). There is a clear risk that we lose top place in these rankings if too many people exercise
#6 Cycling England has already achieved its goals, and its work is therefore complete
  • The Conservative Manifesto committed to "give the concerns of cyclists higher priority"; the Liberal Democrat manifesto committed to "facilitate an increase in levels of cycling and walking, through investment, information and innovation; use local transport planning to promote the adoption of sustainable transport methods, including cycling...; ensure that there is an obligation on developers to plan for the provision of ... walking and cycling facilities; promote an expansion of the National Cycle Network, particularly off-road routes; on-road cycling will be made easier, safer and more accessible to all; promote cycling competency schemes and encourage better facilities for cyclists; introduce a cycling ‘Gold Standard’ award for all rail and bus stations meeting minimum cycle facility standards, including adequate provision of secure cycle parking and information on local cycle routes; support the adoption of large scale bicycle rental programmes; ensure that road traffic law is enforced with equal vigour in relation to cyclists; the coalition agreement commits to support sustainable travel initiatives, including the promotion of cycling. With that level of commitment in place, there can be no further need for an independent body tasked with promoting cycling

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Back in the saddle

Six days after the bump, today I decided to get back on a bike. I couldn't ride the normal bike, because it's in the shop getting fixed. So I got the hybrid off the rack, pumped up the tyres, and took it for its first outing in months.

I set off with a bit of trepidation. Partly because I wasn't sure which bits were still hurting, but more about how I would react to traffic after being walloped by a car.

So I picked a nice quiet route, away from the main roads. One that I used ride regularly when I first got back into cycling. It winds around a mix of different suburbs for about five miles.

In the event all was fine. I'm a little bit more wary of traffic than I was, but maybe that isn't such a bad thing.

And I can honestly say that I was pedalling like a steam engine. With a tender behind.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Spending on bikes in Europe

Bike Europe and Colibi provide various statistics on bicycle sales across Europe. I've combined their numbers with some Eurostat figures on population and GDP, to investigate differences between the countries we have been visiting over the last couple of weeks.

In proportion to the size of the economy, the Netherlands spends more than anyone else on bicycles. We in the UK spend less than the European average. We didn't visit Italy, but I imagine that the cycling culture is similar to France. In that light, their expenditure on bicycles seems surprisingly low.

Part of the reason that the Netherlands spends so much is that they buy expensive bicycles. The average price of a bicycle in Germany is fairly high. In Italy it is close to the European average, but we in the UK tend to buy cheap bikes.

We in the UK do buy quite a lot of bikes though. More than the European average, and about the same as Germany and France. But not as many as in Denmark or the Netherlands. The Netherlands spends most because they buy lot of bikes, and spend a lot on them. While Italy buys bikes at close to the average European price, they do not buy many of them. In France they pay less than average for a bike, but buy a lot of them. In Germany they buy quite a lot of fairly expensive bikes. In Poland, as in most "new" EU member states, they buy quite small numbers of relatively inexpensive bikes.

Challenging the natural order

I've been reading "Need for the bike" by Paul Fournel, following coverage on the Bike Show on Resonance FM.

I see that the Library of Congress classifies this as "cycling - anecdotes". In a way that's true, but it hardly does justice to the contents. It's a remarkable little book, in which Mr Fournel meditates on various aspects of cycling. Some of it goes way over my head, but there are plenty of nuggets that provide new insights into things that I have noticed myself (or things that I now see that I should have noticed).
At one point Fournel realises that he has always mounted his bike from the left, putting his right leg over first. He decides in future to alternate from one side to the other. I too have always mounted my bike from the left (I have at least one thing in common with Mr Fournel), and pushed off with my right foot.

Yesterday evening I decided it was time for a change, so I gingerly mounted from the right, and pushed off with my left foot.  It was all a bit strange. I suppose that means I should do it more often.

Soon I was off riding one of my normal circuits, but in the same contrarian spirit, I followed it in a counter-clockwise direction - the opposite way round to my usual habit.  Two miles out, the bike was clipped by a car at a difficult junction and I was thrown into the road. My short experiment was at an end.

I was pretty shaken, and a bit battered, but the poor bike suffered more. The pannier rack is badly bent, and the back wheel is out of kilter. I'm not sure whether the frame is damaged, so I will need to take expert advice on that. At minimum there is some repair work to be done. I hope that's all.

Everyone, including the driver directly involved, was very considerate and helpful. I was able to walk the two miles home. I had a hot bath, a stiff drink, and a good rest. This morning, I have acquired a few aches, bruises and scars, but I don't seem to have suffered any lasting damage.

If I was superstitious I could put all this down to my attempts to disrupt the natural order of the universe. But I'm not superstitious - it was an accident, and sometimes accidents happen. It could probably  have been avoided, but it could also have been a lot worse. Thankfully life goes on. I suspect the aches and pains will too, for a while.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

A Journey

The bike has spent the last couple of weeks in the shed while we travelled almost 3,000 miles across Europe. We visited six different countries, but spent most time in parts of Poland, Germany and France. It's been a few years since we did anything like this, and it was a fascinating trip. 

In the process we saw a of different cycling infrastructure, and a variety of bikes and cyclists. However I've been viewing it all from inside the car or as a pedestrian, rather than from the saddle. Of course we only sampled tiny parts of huge countries.  

One of the surprises was in Poland. To put it mildly, the transport infrastructure in Poland is a bit varied. The new motorways are among the best we travelled on, and we saw a lot of other construction under way, but elsewhere heavy Trans-European traffic has been causing a lot of damage to some relatively minor roads. Hours of bumping along some very ropey surfaces have given me a different perspective on the standard of UK roads, and I won't be complaining about potholes and patchy repairs in Berkshire (for  a while anyway). 

What surprised me was that alongside some of the rougher Polish roads they were busy laying miles of beautiful new cycle lanes. At first glance this seemed an odd priority. We spent some time in Gdansk, which has taken a lead as a cycling city, and I understand that in Eastern Poland there are moves to encourage cycle touring as a contribution to economic development. We were mainly in central and western Poland though, and I suspect that the rationale for investing in cycling infrastructure there is more to do with improving road safety and access for scattered communities rather than either promoting tourism, or encouraging environmentally sustainable transport.

In Germany, by contrast, the quality of the transport infrastructure is notoriously good, and it was no surprise to find an extensive cycle network in the towns and region where we spent most time. Here the investment seems to be much more oriented towards encouraging utility cycling in the towns, and tourism in the rural areas - and in both cases the facilities were being well used.

By contrast, the evidence for the famous French passion for cycling was mostly in the wide choice of cycling magazines in the racks. We didn't visit the most famous cycling areas, but investment in cycling infrastructure in the places we visited was mostly limited to painting lines and symbols onto footpaths. As a temporary pedestrian, it wasn't  particularly helpful.  

For better or worse, the stereotypes that I'm left with are that cycling in Poland is mostly utilitarian. A wide range of different people apparently ride basic hybrid bikes, mainly as a convenient form of transport.  In Germany what we observed was mostly cycling as a pastime. Most cyclists were middle-aged, and leisurely riding extremely well-equipped trekking bikes, along relatively flat dedicated cycle routes. Whatever French cyclists are doing, they are doing it somewhere else. In the areas we visited keen cyclists must mostly spend their time reading magazines that cover cycling as a sport.

I'm left wondering what superficial impressions a visitor from abroad would form of cycling in the Thames valley.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Inner tail wind

The entire Wikipedia entry for Shurlock Row reads "Shurlock Row is a village in Berkshire, England, and part of the civil parish of Waltham St Lawrence. The settlement lies north of the M4 motorway, and is located approximately 5.5 miles (8.9 km) south-west Maidenhead."

So it's not a destination packed with excitement. It's a pretty village, a fairly short ride from home. It has a pond, and a pub, but if there's anything at all notable that I would pick out, its the pleasant mix of houses from different periods. I think of them as Shurlock homes.

Shurlock Row was where I headed this morning, via a circuitous route, on a quick spin before our visitors arrive.

Sometimes the roads in these parts can get busy, but they were fairly quiet this morning. There were a number of cyclists about, and  quite a lot of walkers, including a party of mature ramblers that I passed on one of the quieter lanes. They seemed to be equipped for mountaineering in the Alps.  That's not an uncommon sight around here, and I suppose it is the pedestrian equivalent of MAMILs* on expensive road bikes. Perhaps we should expect to see the emergence of a "real rambling" movement as some kind of backlash.

All that apart, the best thing about this morning's ride was that it was such a lovely, sunny, crisp early autumn day. There was a little bit of a breeze, but that was easily overcome by my inner tail wind, which drove me and the bike along briskly for an unremarkable, but very satisfying outing on a glorious morning.

*MAMIL="middle-aged man in lycra"

I've just discovered the old web site of Shurlock Row Garage in "maintenance mode" - how appropriate. Their real site is here.

Friday, 17 September 2010

The Church of Sit-Up Cycling

Everyone should know of the The Church of Sit-Up Cycling, which was established as a response to a Vancouver law which makes it illegal to ride without a helmet "unless the wearing would interfere with an essential religious practice". Thanks to CTC for the link.

The Church "requires its adherents to cycle for work and play wearing whatever they want (and) the freedom to choose headwear - which may or may not include plastic - is an essential religious practice."

According to their web site, they also hold that "children should do what they're told until they get a job and start chipping in with the rent". Personally, I think that children should do what they're told, full-stop. I never did, and I expect the next generation to re-align the universe. But as the family are getting together this weekend, that's a view that I should probably keep to myself. There's quite enough controversy around cycling helmets, without getting into inter-generational arguments.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010


I have a few regular routes, each of which takes me ten or fifteen miles and allows me to fit in a quick ride before dinner without having to think too much about where to go. Because I regularly ride the same routes, they are quite familiar. On each I have picked out little landmarks that mark progress - things like a nice bridge over the railway, or a view of the river.

On one of them there is a short section of country lane which is a most peculiar ride. The surface is crossed by ripples, with the peaks at just the wrong distance apart. So when the back wheel is in a dip, the front wheel is on a crest, and vice versa. The bike pitches backwards and forwards, as though it is on oval wheels. It's not a very pleasant sensation, but it is impossible to ignore, and it has become one of my markers as I progress round that particular ride.

On another of my regular routes there has been a trench down the road for the last few weeks while they do something important to the pipes (or so they say - I prefer to imagine them burying their loot). They have just finished one section, and moved on to the next leaving a new section of road surface. Cunningly, they've recreated the rippled effect from the country lane, almost to perfection. Now I have a way of marking progress around both routes.

I just hope the idea doesn't catch on.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

The most photogenic parts of the Sustrans network?

No, I don't know where they are either, but I've been playing around with different ways of clustering images, and eventually came up with this, based on geo-tagged images in the NCN group on Flickr. Kent wins.

Now with pictures added (click on a blob)

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Here come old flattop he come grooving up slowly

Those are the opening lines from the Beatles album, Abbey Road. Maybe not their greatest, but an important part of the soundtrack from my formative years. So when I found myself in the St John's Wood area on today's ride I couldn't resist a diversion to see the famous crossing, and the inevitable group of visitors taking pictures of each other marching across.

The real point of today's ride was to complete another two visits on my list of famous churches, to bring the total to 50. St Augustine in Kilburn, and Mary Magdalene in Paddington were the last two on this year's list. Unfortunately one was closed, and people were worshipping in the other, so I didn't get to see either properly inside.

The rest of the day's ride made up for that though. Apart from visiting Abbey Road, I had my lunchtime sandwich in Kensal Green Cemetery.It's the oldest of seven private Victorian cemeteries on the outskirts of London, and resting place of Charles Babbage, and Isambard Kingdom Brunel, among others (including George Melly, I now discover). I had a good wander round, but I failed to find either of the graves I was looking for.

Mary Magdalene in Paddington was the last stop on my planned route, and it is right next to the Grand Union Canal. So I thought it would be interesting to come home along the canal tow-path.

The Grand Union leads to the Slough Canal, which takes me as far as Slough,. As a result I can cover two-thirds of the distance home from Paddington on a nice traffic-free route. It meanders about a bit, the surface is a bit variable, and there are too many obstructions, so it's not fast. But it is a lot quieter, and a lot less stressful than the road. On the whole it is attractive, and it is quite beautiful in places. Odd that the idea hadn't occurred to me before.

In summary, I've had a great day, and covered 66 miles, which puts the annual target back on track. I've completed planned visits to 50 churches. If I had a project to visit all the places that had Beatles albums named after them, then I would have completed that one as well. I met a mix of interesting people during the day. But despite the efforts of Wikipedia contributors, I still can't make any sense of the lyrics from Come Together. Unless "I've got to be good looking 'cause I'm so hard to see" is saying something about cycling in traffic?.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Blue plaques

Perhaps I should have realised earlier, but I only noticed today that blue plaques are rendered by Mapnik at the highest zoom levels.

It's not very logical, but there's something particularly satisfying about seeing things I've added appearing on the map when I didn't expect them to. At least there was until I realised I'd failed to add a couple of the plaques that I found, and that I'd plotted one in the wrong place. Those are fixed now though.

Monday, 6 September 2010

To Hampstead, and back

From home I reckon that I can reach almost 3,000 square miles of South-East England in a day's bike ride (more if I combine cycling with the train). That covers a variety of landscape and heritage. The only things that I lack are easy access to mountains and the coast. On top of that I'm lucky to have the time, an understanding family, and a climate that means I can spend quite a bit of time exploring it all. There is at least one Unesco World Heritage site within reach, a couple of designated areas of outstanding natural beauty, and there are countless examples of outstanding buildings and structures. So there is no shortage of places to visit. Of course I enjoy seeing the well-known highlights, but there is also a lot to be said for the variety. And variety sometimes involves riding through areas that are drab and monotonous. Yesterday was quite a mixture.

My quest to visit famous churches has taken me through a lot of pretty villages, and along a lot of quiet rural roads, but now there are only 4 more left to take the total to 50, and all of them are on the outskirts of London. Yesterday I set off to visit two in Hampstead.

By any standards, Hampstead is posh. Average house prices around there are almost £1million for a semi, and almost £2million for a detached. Those are averages - the prices of some of the more spectacular properties run into tens of millions. But my route there and back took me through a much wider mix of suburbs, past the Polish War Memorial at Northolt, a huge Indian wedding party parading in Brent, and along the edge of some of the major arteries leading in and out of London. Towards the end of the day I also saw quite a lot of sky-riders on their way home.

The on-line route planners did a good job for me. The biggest problem I find riding near London is that the major routes are a bit too hairy for me. Although I know the general layout, I'm not familiar with the detail, so away from the major roads it is easy to get lost. That in turn involves a lot of stops to check the map, a lot of back-tracking where I mess up, and normally a combination of the two.

For yesterday I downloaded a route onto the GPS that ducked and dived around minor roads for quite a lot of the way. That made for a much more interesting ride than I could have navigated without the GPS, and revealed a few interesting new options (even nearer to home where I thought I knew the area fairly well). I still managed to get lost a couple of times, and ended up covering 70 miles instead of the 60 that it should have taken. That was partly because of diversions that threw me off track, and partly because I merrily rode past one of the destinations, and continued for a couple of miles before I realised what I had done, and had to retrace my steps. Quite how I missed a 178 foot spire is still beyond me.

Both of the churches that I visited were interesting, but in different ways. St Jude in Hampstead Garden Suburb is early 20th century, designed by Lutyens, and very imposing both inside and out. St John in the centre of Hampstead is Georgian, a bit sparse outside, but very pretty inside.

For anyone interested in maps, the grave of John Harrison in the churchyard of St John is notable. The book that I use as a reference list of churches to visit describes him as "inventor of longitude" which is inaccurate on many different levels. What he actually invented was the marine chronometer, which enabled ships to determine their longitude position with greater accuracy. He was (eventually) awarded £8,750 by the admiralty for his work. In today's money that would buy him a decent semi in Hampstead. They never paid him the full prize of £20,000 which they had promised.

Ironically, given that this was one of my least rural rides, the other famous person buried in the graveyard is the painter John Constable, who is best known for his rural scenes of the borders of Suffolk and Essex.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Atlas of the seas

I've just come across this rather nice interactive atlas of the seas around Europe, which is provided by the EU.

There is all sorts of intriguing information, from the height of tides, to coastal erosion, take-up of fishing quotas, and maritime transport. Nothing on sea cycling - but perhaps I'm looking in the wrong place*.

I'm not sure how useful it is in practice, but it looks nice, and it has distracted me from what I ought to be doing for the last half hour or so.

Enough for now, I must get back to something more productive (and billable).

* here, here, and here.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

August round-up

So we are now into the last third of the year, and it's time to take stock of progress over another month. It's been a month for milestones, but more of that shortly. First I must follow tradition and review progress against goals.

  • In terms of miles covered things are looking a bit better. I started the month about 130 miles behind plan, and I ended it about 30 miles behind. At the rate I'm going I should be back on track in the next week or so. That will leave an average of 73 miles a week to cover for the rest of the year if I am going to meet my annual goal. It should be emminently do-able. 
  • I've also visited a few more churches on my list, and only need to reach four more to take the total to 50. Again, that should be emminently do-able. 
  • My Eddington number isn't rising as fast as I would like, but it is well on the way to the goal of 50 for this year, and reaching that shouldn't be a problem. I am steadily racking up rides of more than 60 miles, and I ought to be able to manage another 5 this year to reach the planned total of 30.
We should probably skate over the fact that I'm still more than 8 inches short of the ideal height for my weight, and move onto the milestones.

  • Milestone number one is a real one, between Colnbrook and Heathrow. I've been unsuccessfully trying to find this one on several recent outings. It turns out that I was looking in completely the wrong place, on the wrong road, about half a mile away from where I should have been looking. Not the most effective approach. Now that I've got myself sorted, I've completed the list of all the remaining milestones on this stretch of the Bath Road. 
  • Milestone number two is just that the new bike and I have now covered more than 2,000 miles together since the beginning of March.
  • Milestone number three is getting around my Winter Hill loop for the first time in less than 45 minutes.
  • But the best milestone of all is that I've had an apology from a beeper in a hatchback. He followed normal practice, coming up behind me, and sounding the horn to try and make me jump. I looked round and gave the stare that is meant to say "do grow up you silly child", but to be realistic probably just makes me look like a silly old fool. He continued past me, parked a few hundred yards up the road, got out, and as I rode past he shouted an apology. Granted, it was on behalf of his passenger (who he blamed for hitting the horn). And maybe it was some complicated wind-up that I don't get. But it still felt like a breakthrough.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Chilterns Cycleway-ish

I'm a bit behind my planned mileage at the moment, and there's a temptation to pick flat routes where all the effort goes into burning up the miles, rather than anything else.

I need to work on handling hills though, so I'm trying to resist the temptation to stay on the flat, and today I decided to try out parts of the Chilterns Cycleway that recently appeared on Open Street Map.

My original plan was to start in Henley, and work my way clockwise around the Chilterns Cycleway to Stokenchurch, then head home and leave the next section for another day.

However I was slow getting started, and the weather wasn't brilliant. So by the time I got to Stoke Row I was running late. It was windy and wet.

If  I had stuck to the original plan I would have dropped down to Ipsden and Ewelme, then I would have had to climb back up the escarpment to Christmas Common. In principle I was up for a bit of hill climbing, but in practice I wanted the option of cutting things short if the weather didn't improve. So I left the published route and continued north along the top of the escarpment, to Christmas Common.

Road between Northend & Turville
By then the weather had improved again. The rain had stopped, the sun was out, and while it was still windy, it wasn't the steady head wind that I had been battling earlier. So it was a glorious run down one of my favourite bits of road - Holloway Lane, between Northend and Turville.

I then continued to Hambleden and stopped for coffee and a lovely piece of flapjack in the churchyard. After Hambleden my normal route home gets a bit spiky. I've been promising myself for ages that one day I would manage these hills without getting off and pushing. Today was the first day I have actually achieved it. That is a bit of a milestone, and it raises the bar for the next time I do this route. To some extent it made up for skipping the tougher hills earlier.

A bit further on about eight Red Kites were circling overhead as someone ploughed the fields. That's probably not a hugely unusual sight around here any more, but it was pretty impressive just the same.

In summary, things didn't quite go to plan, but total distance of 55 miles moves the numbers along a bit. More importantly I got in a bit of practice at hills, there were some memorable moments, and there is plenty more of the Chiltern Cycle Route to explore.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Sonning Cutting on Osmarender

View Larger Map

Following a bit of tweaking after last week's visit.This is a very minor contribution to some lovely detail that others have provided in Reading. To my eyes the general area looks better on Mapnik, and best on the Open Cycle Map, but neither of those picks out the railway cutting.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Should you take bananas on a bike ride?

I ask myself:
  • Would bananas appreciate spinning almost effortlessly along country lanes; with the feeling that everything is flowing smoothly, hedgerows sliding past, and hardly any sound except the birds, and the tyres on the road?
  • Would bananas gain a sense of satisfaction from covering 68 miles, lifting the Eddington number to 47, and bringing the annual mileage a bit closer to being back on plan?
  • Would bananas help to navigate a couple of complicated bits of route, that could have saved a few miles if I hadn't got muddled?
  • Would bananas have been interested in visiting an early Georgian church, that turned out to be locked when we got there?
  • Would bananas have been suitably impressed by the size and defences of the Roman town of Calleva at Silchester, not to mention the size and security measures at the Atomic Weapons Establishment in nearby Aldermaston.
  • When I drifted off my planned route, I ended up embroiled in the roadworks at the A33 / M4 Junction 11. Would bananas have understood that the point where the plan falls apart is the point where the real adventure begins, and enjoyed discovering a new route into Reading down the "wrong" side of the canal?
  • Would bananas have helped to lift the bike over the extended barriers in Reading that are supposed to discourage motorbikes from using the towpath. I don't know how effectively they discourage motorbikes, but they are an almost completely effective deterrent to a touring bike.
  • Would bananas feel a sense of fellowship with the other cyclists who are out enjoying a day in the country, including the man who was cycling home from a meeting of Harley Davidson enthusiasts?

In each case, I think the answer is no.

I don't think bananas are really cut out for a day like today. They wouldn't enjoy it. To take one with me would have been cruel. I'm glad I left them all sitting in the fruit bowl. It was an act of kindness, not the mistake that some people might have thought.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Sonning Cutting

I didn't feel much like going for a ride at the end of the day yesterday. I felt tired, and the weather wasn't ideal. But I needed to get out.

I decided to head west, because there are several different options for cutting the ride short, and coming home early. By the time I had covered five miles though, I felt like carrying on, despite a head wind. I ended up going through Twyford, and part way along the A4, to reach Sonning Cutting.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Acting lesson

You have 5 seconds to silently express the following emotions through the windscreen of a large black 4x4 coming up the motorway slip-road, straight towards me....

  1. I've had a rotten day...
  2. ...but I'll soon be home
  3. Crikey, I didn't notice that cyclist on the roundabout
  4. OMG, I'm going too fast, and I'm going to plough straight into him
  5. Thank goodness, he's getting out of the way
  6. Blimey, that was a bit close for comfort
  7. Sorry, mate, I didn't see you
In retrospect it was almost funny, but it could have been a real mess.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Trafalgar Way Route Options

Larger map here

Following on from the previous post, this shows two different suggestions of cycle routes from Falmouth to London. The blue line is taken from Bike Route Toaster, and the black one from Open Street Map.

Bike Route Toaster seems to be chosing the more interesting way for the final leg, but I don't have time to compare them properly at the moment (I'm supposed to be working, but I couldn't resist experimenting). I will take a proper look later. Meanwhile I would be interested in comments from anyone who knows the areas they pass through. The Bike Route Toaster route is 277 miles, and the OSM one is 447.02km (278 miles) - so not much difference in total distance. (This is the OSM "recommended" route. The "shortest" route is about ten miles shorter).

I don't have a map of the original route, but according to Wikipedia it went from Falmouth through Truro, Bodmin, Launceston, Oakhampton, Exeter, Honiton, Axminster, Bridport, Dorchester, Blandford, Woodyates, Salisbury, Andover, Overton, Basingstoke, Bagshot, Staines, and Hounslow to the Admiralty, and was 271 miles long. It sounds like a bit of a mix of both of these. 

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Trafalgar Way

On Sunday I passed a plaque commemorating the route that Lieutenant Lapenotiere took in 1805 to carry news of Nelson's victory at Trafalgar from Falmouth to the Admiralty in London. The bi-centenary of his journey was celebrated in 2005 by marking out the route with plaques, and producing a map. One of the plaques is on Kensington High Street.

Lieutenant Lapenotiere covered the 271 miles in 37 hours in a fast carriage called a post chaise, drawn by four horses. He changed horses 21 times at a cost to the admiralty of £46 19s 1p in expenses.

It occurred to me that one day his route might make for an interesting longer cycle trip. So this evening I started playing around with route planners to see what sort of options there were.

If anyone has produced a Post Chaise Route Planner then I'm not aware of it. Bike Route Toaster generates a straightforward suggestion that takes a fairly direct line through Exeter, Yeovil, Salisbury, Andover, Reading and Slough. The most significant difference form the original route seems to be that Lieutenant Lapenotiere took a longer, more southerly loop through Dorchester between Exeter and Salisbury. Then he took a more direct route through Basingstoke and Staines rather than today's longer suggestion further north through Reading and Slough.

Falmouth to London is too far for CycleStreets to plan in one go, so that will need breaking down into shorter steps. Meanwhile I thought I'd give Google Maps a try. It does't have a cycling option, so I asked for a walking route, and got an interesting suggestion.

Perhaps it's a good thing that they didn't have this stuff automated 200 years ago. Under the circumstances touching down a couple of times in France would have been a little tactless in 1805.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Yesterday's ride

At the start of the year I planned to reach 15 more famous churches on the bike to bring the total to 40. Having achieved that in May I decided to up the ante and aim for another ten. I reached one more in June, but since then I've not made much progress.

Each time I reach one church the distance to the next is a little bit further, so the circle of those I reach is gradually expanding. It happens that this tranche of churches on my list is now starting to reach into London.

So yesterdays ride was a bit different to my normal trundle around rural lanes. It was relatively flat, but route finding needed a bit more attention than it normally gets, and the level of traffic, even on a Sunday, meant that I needed to stay alert. Not that I would admit to daydreaming on a country ride, so lets say that the metropolis offers a higher level of visual stimulation.

Obviously churches in London tend to be clustered more closely than they are in Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire Hampshire and Surrey. That means means that it's relatively easy to reach more than one in a single outing. Normally an outing involves reaching one, or at most two churches on my list. Yesterday I reached four: Saint Cuthbert in Philbeach Gardens, Brompton Oratory, Holy Trinity in Prince Consort Road, and Saint Augustine in Queens Gate.

Brompton Oratory is the most impressive from outside, but I wasn't comfortable leaving the bike outside for long, so I didn't spend much time inside. Holy Trinity in Prince Consort Road was locked, so I managed to get the best look inside Saint Augustine in Queens Gate, and St Cuthbert in Philbeach Gardens.

Apparently John Betjeman was particularly keen on the former. It's nice enough, with some interesting wall panels, but the more remarkable interior to my eye is St Cuthbert in Philbeach Gardens (pictured). The web site describes it as "a spectacular example of late Victorian architecture", which pretty much captures it.

There are many reasons why I am enjoying this project to visit famous churches. One of them is that walking into many churches is like stepping back in time. Parish churches have often been around for hundreds of years, and history has left a series of memories in the building and the monuments that traces changes in the way that the community has lived.

St Cuthbert's was different though. Stepping into this church was also like stepping back in time, but into a  frozen state that has passed everywhere else. It wasn't like watching a recreation of Victorian life in a film or television programme, or even visiting a preserved railway or country house. However carefully these are handled you know in your heart that they are now artificial creations. This was more like opening a Victorian book, and making contact directly with a different age. Quite an uncomfortable experience. I couldn't help wondering how much of this past world is still preserved along with the building itself, and why?

I used to plan my route there and back through Colnbrook, Brentford, and Hammersmith, which all worked fine. Apart from the ride into London and back, the rest of the day was spent tootling between Hyde Park, South Kensington and Earls Court. For London cyclists it was probably all relatively quiet. For me it was quite different to normal. I bottled out on a couple of occasions, and walked the bike through Hammersmith Broadway and busy bits near South Kensington tube, but otherwise didn't find the traffic as much of a challenge as I expected.

Total distance for the day was just over 60 miles, which helps the numbers along. By the time I got home I was more tired than I should have been. That could be all the excitement, but I suspect it really means that I'm out of practice and need to get more riding done.

The expanding circle of the churches that I have visited is mapped here

Sunday, 15 August 2010

The UK's ugliest cycle path?

Running along the central reservation of the A4, under the M4, and covered in cigarette ends.

On a positive note, it is painted green.


If you have to park in a cycle lane, you couldn't choose a better place

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Ordnance survey survey

Last week the Ordnance Survey reported that two thirds of the population admit to regularly getting lost, and 38% pretend to know where they are going even when they have no idea.

The point of all this was so that they could remind us that we tend to rely heavily on out-of-date paper maps.

Although half of us are happy to ask for directions, more than half have given misleading ones. Apparently the most reliable people to ask for directions are men aged over 55 from the north east of England. I fit that demographic exactly, so perhaps I should point out that I regularly get lost myself, before a flood of requests flows in. At least it explains why I hate asking for directions myself.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Saturday, 31 July 2010

July round-up

The bishop says, "I'm afraid you've got a bad egg, Mr Jones."
The curate replies, "Oh, no, my Lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent!"
From Punch, 9 November 1895 
That's a bit how this month has turned out.

My total mileage continues to slide gently behind the plan that is going to get me to a total of 3,759 miles by the end of the year. I've made little progress on the subsidiary goals around Eddington numbers, Jenkins churches and the like.

On the other hand, I've been reminded that I don't just trundle around on the bike trying to accumulate numbers for the spreadsheet. It's been a good month to remember that the real satisfaction is in the ride itself. There's little to beat the sensation of spinning along a country road, with plenty of energy in reserve, feeling in touch with what is going on around. In July I've had more than a fair share of rides like that.

I've also met a number of people who are enjoying a variety of different kinds of cycling. Some of them just find it a convenient way of getting around. Some are cycling because it's a way of having fun with their children or their friends. Some are finding that it's an enjoyable way of exploring parts of the world that they know little about. All of those are important to me too.

What's more, the distances are turning out to be a bit of a two-edged sword. A few days ago I mentioned to a colleague that I might ride 20 miles or so to drop some papers off. A few weeks ago I rode 40 miles or so to visit friends in Oxford. On both occasions the reaction suggested that these were hugely impressive athletic achievements. On the face of it that seems flattering - but on reflection it isn't. The truth is that they aren't impressive distances - unless you add the phrase "...for someone of your age". And thinking like that is a bit dispiriting.

It's far easier for me to record the quantities, rather than the qualities. That's why I tend to rabbit on about numbers of rides, distances covered, and so on. In truth it's the quality that matters more. In different ways the last month has turned out to be a good reminder of that.

(I think that's a plausible enough excuse for now. I'm going to have to start racking  up the mileage soon though, or the spreadsheets will start to look really sick).